September 14th 2019

“Return of the Prodigal Son”, Guercino, 1619, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.   When Guercino (1591 -1666) painted this image for the Papal Legate to Ferrara, Cardinal Giacomo Serra, he was only 28.  Perhaps, he identified with the subject, as he returns to it again and again.  There are at least five versions in galleries around the world, all with the Father, the servant and the younger son caught in close-up at the very moment when the son is about to be clothed by the father.  It is as if we have just walked into the room just in time witness this intimate and private moment.  We are in the father’s house.  The chair on the lower left suggests the affluent domesticity into which the son is welcomed home. servant is on the right brings the fine garments in which the son will be dressed.   The father’s arm is placed between the son and the servant as he reaches for the clean linen shirt.  It is almost as if he were protecting the son.  You can see the ring on the father’s finger and the shoe is in the servant’s hand.  The father’s advanced age  accent the son’s youthfulness.   The old man has an abundance of whiskers.  But the son’s face is smooth with no hint of a beard.  His dark locks contrast with the father’s bald crown.  No doubt influenced by Caravaggio or one of his followers,  the young Guercino lets a beam of light pick out the youthful shoulders of the son and the wrinkled skin of the father’s face.  Light falls on the hands of all three. The son has been welcomed back most tenderly.  Notice the father’s hand on the small of his back.  The father’s arms almost enfold the son while he removes his soiled and tattered shirt,  the symbol of  his waywardness and where it took him.  As in his “Woman taken in Adultery “ of 1621, now at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the hands tell the story.  These two works are remarkably close not just in time, but in his treatment of the wayward son and the woman who had been caught in the very act adultery.  In each, Guercino captures both their vulnerability and their quiet dignity.  Have a look online at both and ponder this similarity which (squint-eyed) Guercino clearly saw and portrayed four centuries before us.


Edinburgh Catholic Chaplaincy

The Catholic Chaplaincy serves the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.

The Catholic Chaplaincy is also a parish of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh (the Parish of St Albert the Great) and all Catholic students and staff are automatically members of this parish.

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